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[rr] EU Unveils 'Tougher' Software Patent Proposal



>From NY Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/technology/tech-tech-eu-software.html

EU Unveils 'Tougher' Software Patent Proposal

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission on Wednesday unveiled a new 
approach to software patents, which a top Commission official said would draw 
U.S. criticism as it would mean tougher criteria in Europe to grant a patent.

The proposal, which would standardize a variety of software patent rules 
across the 15-member bloc, requires that software contain new ideas to 
qualify for patent protection.

Also, patents would apply only when software is loaded in a machine or 
operating system, not when it merely sits on a shelf.

Commissioner Frits Bolkestein, whose Internal Markets group oversaw the new 
proposal, said the proposal differs from the U.S. approach, which permits 
patents for software independent of machines and does not necessarily require 
fresh innovation.

``We will take American complaints on the chin,'' he predicted.

Bolkestein's presentation opens the debate on the proposal, which is certain 
to face amendment in order to win the needed approval from the European 
Parliament and its member states.

He rejected the U.S. position, which he said includes the patenting of 
business methods.

``There should be an inventive step which is not obvious to people who are 
familiar with the field,'' Bolkestein said at a news conference. ``It really 
must be a novelty.''

But he also discarded the view that software should be openly available with 
little or no protection.

TWO EXTREMES

``The Commission has had to steer between those two extremes,'' Bolkestein 
said.

The Commission's position offers no sanctuary from the law to would-be 
software pirates. Officials were quick to say that software transmitted over 
the Internet or published would continue to be protected under copyright law.

Patents provide an absolute 20-year monopoly, which the owner can exploit for 
commercial advantage. Copyright provides a lesser form of protection, which 
runs far longer.

The Commission proposal is certain to face changes as it undergoes scrutiny 
by the European Parliament.

``What is important to realize is that the Commission's proposal is only the 
start of the debate,'' said Thomas Tindemans, the European political affairs 
expert for the law firm White & Case in Brussels.

``It's going to be amended for sure, but which way the amendments will go is 
difficult to predict,'' he added.

Tindemans and a colleague said there is certain to be heavy lobbying by the 
U.S. software industry, which will want the higher level of protection 
offered in the United States.

But they noted that patents such as that granted to Amazon.com (news/quote) 
for its controversial ``one-click'' Internet shopping system, which critics 
say is a business method and not an innovation, have raised concerns in the 
U.S. and Europe.

``The question is, 'How sympathetic will the Parliament be to the U.S. 
industry on that particular issue?,''' said Mark Powell of White & Case.

The Parliament and EU member states must agree on the final wording before it 
can take effect.

An official for the Business Software Association's Brussels office expressed 
dismay at the proposal.

``It departs from what we had hoped to see,'' said Francisco Mingorance, 
director of European Public Policy for the U.S.-based association, to which 
Microsoft Corp (news/quote) is a heavy contributor. He said that the proposal 
would increase the costs to software firms seeking to protect intellectual 
property.

Microsoft, which makes the operating system software used on nearly all 
personal computers and dominates the market for PC word processors, had no 
immediate comment on the proposal.



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